Not Exactly Shepherd's Pie

The first time I've had "shepherd's pie" was at a children's party. Someone brought a meat-based mashed potato and cheese topped casserole and I liked it a lot. The person who made it said it was extremely easy and recited the recipe right off the bat. I made a mental note to make this dish when I have a surplus of ground meat and potatoes. What I learned as I researched more about the dish is that technically, shepherd's pie uses lamb. If beef is used, it's called cottage pie. If topped with bread crumbs, it's called Cumberland pie (see more technicalities on Jamie Oliver's 10 things you didn't know about shepherd's pie). Jamie Oliver has his own recipe with a difficulty rating of "Showing Off".  I usually like Jamie Oliver's recipes but this list of ingredients sound too alien (almost snobbish) to me. It includes shoulder of lamb, bone in (which cannot be found in any supermarket in Japan), 1 medium swede (what in the world is that?) and Maris Piper potatoes (not to be confused with Anastasia Beeverhausen potatoes). A mix of ground pork and ground beef is widely available in Japanese supermarkets so this is what I used for my Not Exactly Shepherd's Pie. A British friend remarked that traditionalists might see this strange combination of meats a violation. He might also be further horrified by the worcestershire-ketchup-soy sauce combination of many a Japanese "shepherd's pie" recipe.  But violation or not, this has become one of our comfort food. It has the difficulty rating of you-can-make-it-while-Facebooking.

5-6 medium potatoes
1-2 T butter
½ cup milk (or more)

500 g ground meat
½ -1 cup frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, corn, green peas mix)
1 onion chopped finely
4 cloves garlic crushed
3 T worcestershire sauce
1 T tomato paste
½ cup tomato chunks
1 t Better than Bouillon soup base
rosemary (not critical)
salt and pepper to taste
oil for sauteing

bread crumbs

Boil potatoes in salted water until soft enough for a fork to go through. Drain water then mash with butter. Add milk until you reach desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Sauté onion, garlic and meat in oil. Add mixed vegetables. Add worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, tomato chunks, bouillon soup base and rosemary. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.

In a casserole, layer meat, then mashed potatoes. Top with cheese and bread crumbs. Bake or use the broil function of your oven for about 10-20 minutes in 350°F or until the top is nicely browned (since most of the dish is already cooked, we're simply grilling and browning the top of the dish). Give it some 30 minutes to cool off before serving.

Everyday is Christmas Glazed Almonds

Cinnamon and maple glazed almonds spell Christmas but you need not wait for Christmas for this seriously addicting but thankfully healthy treat. So easy to make you will toss out this recipe after reading it. It's just 1-1-1 and multiply it as many times as you want. You can also use these to top a salad.

1 cup almonds
1 T maple syrup
1 t cinnamon powder

Toss almonds in maple syrup and cinnamon. Line baking pan with parchment paper. Bake for 12-15 minutes in 350°F. Cool and enjoy.

My Japanese Table's Terriyaki Chicken Balls

Not all cookbooks are created equal. Debra Samuel's My Japanese Table: A Lifetime of Cooking with Friends and Familyis one of the few cookbooks I enjoyed leafing through.  A good cookbook inspires me to get on my feet and try making new dishes. These chicken balls were quite easy to make and delicately tasty. Great for bentos too.

½ cup cornstarch or katakuriko
500 g ground chicken
½ t salt
1 large egg white, beaten until foamy
2 t grated ginger
¼ t pepper
2 green onions finely chopped

Mix ground chicken, salt, egg white, ginger, pepper and green onions. Scoop up a spoonful and shape into a ball. Roll in cornstarch. In a pot, boil the following:

3 cups water
2 t dashi powder (optional) or 1 sachet of natural dashi
2 slices fresh ginger

Drop the chicken balls in. Move them a bit so they don't stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil until they change color (to white) and float easily in the broth. Remove the balls. Toss them in the terriyaki sauce below. Serve them as is or skewered in a stick. 
Terriyaki sauce (I made 1/4 of this recipe for the chicken balls above)

2 cups mirin
2 cups sake
6 T brown sugar
1 cup soy sauce
6 slices ginger, smashed

In a saucepan, bring mirin and sake to a boil. Add sugar, soy sauce and ginger. Boil on medium heat for about 15 minutes or until sauce thickens. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator. It can keep for months. 

Essence of Japan Moist Matcha Pound Cake

Every now and then I get a craving for a green tea-ish dessert. The bitterness of green tea balances nicely with things sweet. This craving sometimes takes the form of a cake. Pound cakes are probably the easiest cakes to make: just mix and bake. I can make this cake in 30 minutes (including baking time!). If you hate dry crumbly cakes, you will love this recipe. It yields a wonderfully moist cake, thanks to the yoghurt. I usually make half the recipe else I get tempted to eat the whole thing. 

½ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 T plain yoghurt
1 cup flour
1 T matcha
½ t baking powder

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and yoghurt. Add the dry ingredients. Mix well. Pour into a lined pound cake pan. Bake for 10 minutes in 350°F. Take out and use a knife to draw a vertical line on the cake's surface. Put back into the oven and bake another 10-20 minutes in 325°F (if baking just half of this recipe, 10 minutes will do. If doing the full recipe, longer time might be required. Use a toothpick to check the doneness of the middle).